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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Richard Weinberger, Scaling Olympic Heights From Vernon To London

Many people in the sport, less we say, most people in the sport, even in his own country of Canada, did not give Richard Weinberger to chance to win a medal at the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

Sure he was swimming well in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, but he had to qualify in the last-chance competition to get to London.

And the young man from Vernon was going up against the veteran heavyweights of the sport in front of a huge crowd. But being a darkhorse ...at best...did not negatively influence what Weinberger always believed he could do beginning at the age of 17.

London's marathon swim was the culmination of his dreams, born of a bundle of excess energy and nurtured by his coach Ron Jacks.

I was 6 years old in Vernon, British Columbia. I liked swimming right way,” Weinberger recalls. “The principal told my mom that I had too much energy and he recommended putting me in swimming instead of drug like Riddlin.”

While his physician was trying to manage a situation with a restless child, little did he know that he also set into motion of Olympic dream. “I did all strokes and had way more energy and did better than others,” recalls Weinberger. “But I was a late bloomer. I weighed under 100 lbs. when I was 13. I faced huge mental barriers at the age of 11 and 12 when I did not grow. My size led to obstacles. All the people who I used to beat started surpassing me at 13. I continued swimming, but I could not go to provincial championship because I was so slow. I did not have any success until I was 19 years old when I won the 10K at Canadian Nationals as well as the 800m short course in 7:50.”

But his Olympic dream realistically started at the age of 17. “I was not far behind the others, the top swimmers. I knew I had potential. When I graduated high school, I started to work with Ron Jacks. I got my *** kicked, there were nine 8K workouts a week. When I won the 800m Canadian Nationals, my best 400m was 4:01 short course, but when I won the 800m at Canada Nationals, I when out in 3:56 and came back in 3:54. I had no idea that I was capable of that speed.”

Ron did not let it get to my head. I had some growing to do, but I was steadily improving. There was so much I let him me. It started in Long Beach in 2010 at the Pan Pacific Championships behind Chip Peterson and Fran Crippen. Then things kind of took off. I was 17th in Shanghai at the 2011 World Swimming Championships. But in London, I felt good. I am better in the cold water; I can keep going, my joints do not hurt, and can you just go.”

Weinberger went, but his coach Ron Jacks had a plan. It was a very specific plan and strategy. “My coach has been in 12 different Olympics, coaching Olympians and world champions. We did not stay in the Olympic Village. Instead, we stayed in a Holiday Inn right next to Hyde Park. He got me ready. But I got to watch the triathletes in Hyde Park. Five of the 6 Canadian Olympians train at my complex. There was a buzz there. I consider them my teammates. Bret McMahon has really helped me and he helped me mentally. Then, we watched the girls’ race the day before our race. The girls got us so stoked. Their performance fired us up. Zsofia Balas inspired me. They worked so hard [in the race]. The girls are more furious; it was great to see.”

But he was fired up and didn’t sleep the night before the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. “And I did not sleep two nights before either, but I told myself, you don’t need sleep if you are resting right.”

And he hit the race just right. “It was a perfect race for me. I chilled before the race while I listened to my music, Above And Beyond and others. I was a little nervous, but it was like just another race. I was seeded right next Spiros [Giannoitis]. There was a lot of pressure on Spiros and others. I saw something before the race. I was something like 1-to-28 odds.”

The race itself was a kind of blur for the bronze medalist. “Ron had a plan for me. I tried to stick to the plan. It was almost perfect. There was nothing else I could have done.”

Jacks explains his training and preparation. “We train for a 10K. We do not do long distance freestyle, about 10 sessions per week of 8,000 meters. We do 6 different kinds of pulling and each workout is formulated like a race, never with paddles. For example, we start off with a fast 400, and then work in layers. Like swimming at a 1:10 pace per 100, then a 1:09 pace, then a 1:08 pace. We work down to 1:05 or 1:04.

When you look at how fast the men went in London, they did the last 2 loops at a 4 minute per 400 meter pace. Maybe a 59 [per hundred] pace. It is not really a sprint, but they have developed sustained speed, and perhaps no one finished the race better than Richard

Weinberger recalls the last part of the Olympic 10K in Hyde Park. “Ous [Mellouli] went into shore. That is where we were trying to catch him. But Catherine [Vogt] was his coach and she had [developed] the silver medalist [Haley Anderson], so they knew what was going on. With 250 meters to go, I realized that Spiros was dropping. I knew that I had the power to pass Thomas [Lurz], but I did not have the skill. Thomas is so skilled. I really look up to him. I asked him for advice about keeping weight since I have those problems. He told me to go to McDonalds, and drink a large vanilla milk shake. It really helps. This is why I respect him so much. Plus, I could not have done it without my coach Ron.” It was a long road from Vernon to London, but Weinberger paved it with a positive spirit, enhanced with knowledge and experience of his coach, and support of his teammates.

And the road will undoubtedly continue to Copacabana Beach at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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